What Happened to Financial Aid?

Despite a vast increase in the amount of financial aid available, and a longstanding perception many Americans have of the importance of diversity in a college community, there still aren’t many low-income students graduating from college. Why is that?

California State University, Channel Islands administrator Gary Berg takes a look at this issue in his new book, Low-Income Students and the Perpetuation of Inequality. Berg argues that political changes across America led both government and colleges to limit higher education access.

As Berg explained to Serena Golden in an interview in Inside Higher Ed:

In terms of public policy, this has led to a hardened attitude towards the funding of higher education and financial aid policies. Starting with President Reagan, funding for public higher education in America was significantly shifted towards a reliance on loans. The argument was made that investment in college aid had been excessive. George H.W. Bush further cut federal grants to low-income students during his period in office.

But stingy financial aid changes look to be a bipartisan affair. Even after Clinton became president the trend continued. Clinton’s commitment to improving college access and affordability seemed mostly to result in tax credits for middle-class families with children in college.

In terms of policy solutions, Berg is a little vague. One thing he points out, however, is that the current system provides few rewards for school for enrolling and graduating students from poor families. Schools also face no punishment, either from the federal government or from college rating guides, for saddling students with gigantic loan burdens. Maybe it’s time to address this peculiar situation.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer